My Love For Film In A Snapshot #20

I have to admit that as far as film genres go sci-fi is not one of my favourites. However, I can appreciate a great one when I see it and 1956’s Forbidden Planet is certainly one of them.

For some reason it took me this long to see the film and while obviously not up to scratch with the type of multi-million dollar effects we’re used to in the multiplex nowadays, the film is still astonishing in its use of effects that often leave you wondering how the hell they even did that. Visual techniques are used to create an awe-inspiring sense of scale at times and the above frame is taken from one of those moments, when Walter Pigeon’s reclusive Dr. Edward Morbius takes a young, pre-comedy Leslie Nielsen and Warren Stevens around his compound to show off the ancient technology he has discovered.

A lot can be read into the film on a political and social level or it can just be enjoyed for its (for the time) dazzling effects and enjoyably pulp plot. Highly recommended if you happen not to have seen it.

My Love for Film in a Snapshot #19

Don’t you just love a film that can be simultaneously grotesque and boldly beautiful? Bong Joon-ho’s masterful Memories of Murder is one such film, telling the brutal true story of the investigation of Korea’s first reported serial murders. I recently rewatched the film after some years and was blown away once more.

The above image is taken from the opening scene in which the incomparable Song Kang-ho (also the star of Bong’s monster hit The Host), playing weary but determined detective Park, arrives in the middle of a starkly-coloured field to investigate a body that’s been dumped there. The little boy proceeds to repeat everything he says in that annoying way some kids do, offsetting the brutality of the battered body lying under the concrete the boy is hunched on. Go home, kid. Those who have seen the film (and if you haven’t I urge you to ASAP) will know how it echoes the haunting conclusion.

My Love of Film in A Snapshot #18

With the passing of Tony Scott so jarringly sudden and bizarre. Let us use this space to reflect on was is possibly the best scene of his career, and personally, one of my favourite scenes in cinema. Christopher Walken gets do do what he does, that is to say, monologue, menace and entertain. Dennis Hopper gets to act up a storm playing a father protecting his son by forcing another man to kill him before they torture answers out of him. The body language alone (and note that the monologue is actually about how body language gives away whether someone or not is lying) is staggering. In an ironic footnote to this brilliant scene, the gangsters find the son’s forwarding address in Los Angeles pinned to the refrigerator. The sudden violence, the Robert Richardson-esque cinematography of harsh overhead lights and grain, shot by Scott’s regular DP, Jeffrey Kimball, the tour-de-force character actors doing their thing, which when you think about it, is the greatness of True Romance in the first place: Great actors chewing on a great screenplay (one of the first things to get made from Quentin Tarantino) and top-shelf Tony Scott visuals before the director went all epileptic-Avid-And-Colour-Filter-crazy.

My Love for Film in a Snapshot #17

A simple enough framed shot. Theresa Wright framed beautifully in a doorway, her shadow cast into the house, while her character, Charlotte “Charlie” Newton is standing outside. The point-of-view of the image however, is from Charlie, her uncle, looking down upon her, himself her shadow; as they essentially share the same name. This is perhaps the precise moment where young Charlie confronts her uncle: She not only unequivocally knows that he is a serial killer of rich widows, but she is equally prepared to do something about stopping him from hiding among her family. And that Uncle Charlie (a menacing, cast against type, Joseph Cotten) has decided that he has to do something about her. (Or maybe not! It might be something about himself!) Alfred Hitchcock’s 1942 Shadow of A Doubt is a wonderful collection of signifiers, dualities, subtle inversions that spin around the notion of the loss of innocence. Indeed, in this image alone, stairways criss-cross, one door is open, one closed, she stands in equal proportion to her shadow, and is looking up while the camera looks down. In its own subversive way, the film even suggest that perhaps the sleepy ideal ‘Americana’ town of Santa Rosa, California never even had its own innocence in the first place, lest we are fooled by its white picket fences and rural facade. The one thing we are sure that was pure was young Charlie. And at this exact moment, she has crossed over the threshold of holding on to any last vestige of passive innocence – hat in hand, this is her decisively leaving the nest.

My Love for Film in a Snapshot #16

The password to get into the exclusive uber-elite bacchanalia in the country in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes wide shut is written on a napkin by Todd Field (in acting mode) in a New York City Jazz bar. The napkin has to be held down tight by Tom Cruise for the pen to not mangle the fragile tissue, something we’ve all done, but the camera lingers over it, for casual familiarity, nonetheless. It is a minor scene, as the characters will also talk about the password (“It’s a Beethoven opera”) afterwards, but the attention to framing and shooting this scene can still be sense palpably.

My Love for Film in a Snapshot #15

It’s a moment that’s quite brief, very subtle and can easily be missed, but was one of my favourite little pieces of acting in 2010. The far-better-than-one-could-ever-have-expected Easy A provides charm, a good deal of humour and some top notch parenting tips, but it’s really all centered on Emma Stone. It goes without saying that she’s lovely and talented, but she also has an ease and immediate rapport with the audience and an ability to rattle off sharp lines with speed, clarity and a great sense of timing that was far more common in the Heyday of the studio system in the 30s-40s. The screenshot above doesn’t quite do her justice – this really should be held for “My Love for Film in a half-second Video Clip” – but it’s a high point for Stone in the film while capturing her character Olive Pendergrast’s low point: she thought she had finally found someone who might actually be decent only to realize that he was just like all the rest. She’s been holding her composure throughout the last few weeks of rumours and lies, but this is that final straw. It snaps and she can’t help showing the pain; that moment when all the air seems to get sucked out of your chest. Olive has pretty much lost all faith in general humanity at this point, but Stone doesn’t overplay it. It comes across as a genuine grimace at a crushing blow followed by the strong-willed determination to keep the tough exterior and get through this without letting “them” see that you care. It’s a truly fine performance and terrific moment by a great young actress.

My Love for Film in a Snapshot #14

Chaplin’s streak of sentimentality doesn’t always work for me, and I’d say over the past few years I’ve grown to be a bigger fan of Keaton than Chaplin overall. But rewatching Modern Times (my favorite Chaplin by far) last week solidified that at least this one time, Chaplin’s combination of humor and pathos worked utterly perfectly for me. The Little Tramp’s struggles with mechanistic technology, labor strikes, hunger, homelessness, and authority have never been quite as well put-together as here, with every moment grabbing laughter and tears, often at the same time. This last shot is the Little Tramp’s farewell to cinema, Chaplin’s farewell to silence, and perhaps, a hopeful if tearful farewell to the Depression, as the Tramp and the Gamin walk off together, away from the city, away from the authorities, and towards the sunrise of a new life. No matter how many times I see the film, no matter how much I stoically steel myself against it, I can’t help tearing up at this moment – in large part, of course, to Chaplin’s score, which swells here with the theme “Smile”…”smile, though your heart is breaking.” A happy ending? Yes, but not without acknowledging hardships both past and future.

My Love for Film in a Snapshot #12

Old movies may not have much in the way of actual sex or nudity, but they make up for it with rich innuendo. Hitchcock is one of the best at this in nearly all of his films, but the North by Northwest flirtation scene on the train between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint – strangers at the time, but already with designs on each other, whether in good faith or not – harks back to another famous seduction not directed by the master of suspense. When Saint pulls Grant’s hand closer and takes her time blowing out the match he’s just used to light her cigarette, spending a sultry glance at him through the flame, it’s hard not to think “You just have to put your lips together and blow.” Whether blowing out matches with Eva Marie Saint or whistling with Lauren Bacall, these scenes stick with me much more strongly than the more explicit ones of today.

My Love for Film in a Snapshot #11

I could have selected one of hundreds of different frames from hundreds of different sci-fi and horror films of the last hundred years, but it was during a recent viewing of the original The Fly (from 1958) that this particular bright neon image reminded me of how much I love a great movie laboratory. From Dr. Caligari to Dr. Frankenstein (isn’t that rig that lifts the monster up during the storm the greatest movie prop ever?) to Dr. Jekyll to Doc Brown and onwards, there’s an abundance of incredible machines, gizmos and flashing doohickies in the labs of mad scientists. I particularly like the bright green and blue blinking tubes in The Fly that have no obvious use and look like someone re-purposed the gleaming beer signs from your local pub. I can only imagine the fun that set designers for those old Universal horror films or any of the Hammer horrors must have had in creating the many different labs – a bubbling liquid here, an electrical arc there and tubes everywhere. Another favourite is the duplicating machine in Terence Fisher’s The Four-Sided Triangle (1953) which is not overly removed from The Fly‘s contraption, but this time with its dual chambers lying flat like beds with semi-cylinders encasing the objects undergoing the experimentation and enough switches and knobs to put any room-sized 1950s computer to shame.

That kind of stuff puts a smile on my face every time.

My Love for Film in a Snapshot #10

A little obvious, maybe. But after a recent viewing of Joe Carnahan’s blunt, but highly entertaining, ‘Man vs. Nature’ (but really Man vs. himself with nature lighting the fire under his feet) horror picture, The Grey, my immediate thought was back to Spielberg’s early super-blockbuster, Jaws. This was not so much for the obvious comparison of being stuck somewhere fighting something that wants to eat you, but more in how the film processes manhood through a bunch of hands-on characters. Martin Brody (Roy Schieder), Quint (Robert Shaw) and Martin Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss, not pictured above) work as three representation of manhood – their analogues in The Grey would be Peter Henrik (Dermont Mulroney), Ottway (Liam Neeson) and John Diaz (Frank Grillo). Spielberg has a smoother sense of framing and setting up his characters, as the stakes are not as balls-out immediate in Jaws until the final act – and The Grey, outside of the oil-rig prologue, is pretty much only ‘the final act’ of Jaws. There are hundreds of great shots and moments in Jaws, that is what makes it one of the all time classic populist blockbusters, but at its heart, the film is simply guys standing around thinking about consequences and actions within the twentieth century masculine purview, and I kinda sort of like that.